Authorities found a body Wednesday night in Park County during a search for the 17-year-old East High School student accused of shooting two school administrators earlier in the day.
The body, which has not yet been identified, was found about two-tenths of a mile from where the suspect’s red SUV was located about four hours earlier, Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw said during a news conference.
Members of Jefferson County’s SWAT team were using dogs to search a wooded area in the dark when they found the body around 8:15 p.m.McGraw declined to say if the body was that of Austin Lyle, the teenager accused of shooting two East High School deans who found a gun in his possession Wednesday morning. McGraw also would not say if the person died from a gunshot wound.
McGraw offered reassurances to people living in the area who were under a shelter-in-place order starting when the vehicle was found near Bailey.
“They should feel relieved that we came up here and solved the problem and that we don’t have to wait around until tomorrow morning, or the next few days, on something like this,” McGraw said. “I think everybody can go back home and just be comfortable and know that everything is closed down now.”
McGraw said law enforcement officers from Jefferson County, the Denver Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the FBI aided in the search. Their work should be done by the end of the night, and the person’s identity likely will be released by the Denver Police Department on Thursday morning, he said.
Police had asked the public to help look for Lyle, who they said was driving a red 2005 Volvo XC90. The vehicle was found around 4:30 p.m. along Park County Road 68.
Investigators had been looking for Lyle since just before 10 a.m. Police said two East High administrators were searching Lyle before school when they found a gun. The student grabbed the weapon and shot them, police said during a news conference.
Both administrators were taken to the hospital. One was in serious but stable condition and able to talk with investigators. That man, Jerald Mason, was discharged from the hospital Wednesday evening.
The other dean, Eric Sinclair, was taken to the hospital in critical condition, but Denver Health Medical Center said Sinclair was in serious condition on Wednesday evening.
Lyle had been in trouble before and was subject to a “safety plan” that required him to be searched each day before school, Denver police Chief Ron Thomas said. The shooting happened in an office area away from other students and staff, Thomas said. There were no problems with prior searches.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Lyle was “under (an) agreement to be patted down each day.”
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero told reporters that safety plans are made for students “based on past behavior.” He declined to elaborate, citing privacy laws.
Marrero said Lyle had transferred to East High School from another school district. The Cherry Creek School District said Lyle violated school policies and was “removed” last school year.
Daily pat downs are rare, said Matthew McClain with the Colorado School Counselor Association, and Franci Crepeau-Hobson, a University of Colorado Denver professor specializing in school violence prevention.
“Clearly they were concerned,” Crepeau-Hobson said. “I can’t imagine they’d do that if there wasn’t a history of the kid carrying a weapon for whatever reason.”
Two paramedics were at the school on an unrelated call when the shooting happened. That meant medical responders were able to help the wounded deans immediately.
Police said officers were preparing midday Wednesday to search Lyle’s home. Authorities were seeking to speak with his friends and associates for information on his whereabouts.
The gun used in the shooting has not been recovered.
The shooting happened about 9:50 a.m. and triggered a lockdown, which the school began lifting in phases around 11 a.m. By 1 p.m., most parents and students had left school grounds, after making their way through heavy traffic and past police blockades. Yellow police tape kept the public away from students as they exited the school.
Police officers will be present at the school for the rest of the year to serve as additional security, police said at the news briefing. Denver’s mayor doubled down on a pledge to control violence in schools.
“We must continue to work on addressing safety in our school buildings and our city in general, and we will,” Hancock said.
In a statement a few hours after the shooting, Hancock said school resource police officers should be returned to Denver’s schools. “Removing them was a mistake and we must move to swiftly correct it,” he said.
The Denver Public Schools board voted in June 2020 to phase police out of the city’s schools. Officers were fully phased out by June 2021.
Denver school officials, facing criticism over lax security, said Wednesday that they were putting armed officers in every high school through the rest of the school year.
“We are committed to increasing safety and security measures,” the district said in a letter to students Wednesday evening.
Mason is listed on the East High School directory as a restorative practice coordinator, while Sinclair is listen as the school’s dean of culture.
East High School will be closed for the rest of the week. A letter from the principal said the district expects to share plans for a community meeting April 3 and the return to school on April 4.
This is the second shooting in six weeks at East High School. A student died in the first.
On Feb. 13, Luis Garcia was shot while sitting inside a car just north of the school. He died March 1.
As East High students left school Wednesday, some reflected on the familiar terror of school violence.
A first-year student, waiting for his parents at East Colfax Avenue and Esplanade Street, said shootings have become all too common in Denver schools, shaking his sense of safety.
“It feels like it just keeps happening and nothing is changing,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he fears reprisals from the shooter.
“Every single time this happens, almost always, you miss a day of school,” the student added. “It’s getting in the way of learning. It’s getting in the way of people feeling safe at school so people don’t want to go to school.”
The father of an East High senior said his daughter sent him a text message when gunshots rang out, saying she could hear screaming and was having a panic attack.
He called the shooting “ridiculous” and “frustrating” and another sign that “the gun lobbyists have already won,” given the prevalence of guns.
“It’s a nightmare, but it’s the way it is. And there’s nothing I can do about it, except wait to comfort my daughter and take her out to lunch. And that’s it.
“This is just the world now,” he added. “This is life. Another school shooting.”
Lizzy Graves, a 10th grader, said she was in the school auditorium at a presentation celebrating Latino culture when the attack occurred.
“It’s really scary, but at a certain point, I think we got desensitized because it’s happened so much,” she said. “I’m a little shaken up.”
Her parents are worried about her safety at East High and have told her she can move to another school. But she wants to stay.
“I really like East,” she said. “I love how diverse it is. And I just love everybody here.”
She said she wants more police officers on school grounds, however, and “higher security in general.”
Students held a protest in early March following Garcia’s death, marching to the Colorado Capitol and demanding action to stop gun violence.
“We are all just confused and questioning how many times does it take for us to start moving forward and treat gun violence differently,” Wesley Krebs, a 17-year-old East student, said at the protest. “All of us have kind of adapted to how things like this are kind of normal now, which is kind of terrifying.”
The march on the Capitol was followed about a week later by a student-led gun violence prevention summit at Boettcher Concert Hall on March 9. It gathered lawmakers, Denver’s police chief and gun violence experts in hopes of spurring change.
“Clearly, the fact that another shooting happened so soon after that, is just a sign that not enough has been done,” said Gracie Taub, an East High sophomore who co-organized the summit. “The fact that a shooting happened inside of our school today is so disheartening and so scary.”
The Unaffiliated is our twice-weekly newsletter on Colorado politics and policy.
Each edition is filled with exclusive news, analysis and other behind-the-scenes information you won’t find anywhere else. Subscribe today to see what all the buzz is about.
Most of the guns that find their way into schools were inappropriately stored by parents at home, or left without locks inside vehicles, Thomas told attendees. The guns are then retrieved by young people who illegally use them, he said.
On Thursday, students, parents and anyone else interested will head back to the Capitol to advocate for more gun violence prevention bills, Taub said. Too many gun safety bills have failed, she said.
Students hope to see legislators propose a ban on so-called assault weapons, rules for untraceable, 3D-printed “ghost guns” and a longer waiting period to purchase guns, Taub said.
“The fact that East (High School) is in the news so much, I feel like we’re becoming known as the school where all these shootings happen. But East is a wonderful, wonderful community, and the fact that this is happening at East is horrible. But we’re also more than this,” Taub said. “I want to get back to a place where we can be more than a school with a bunch of shootings.”
In late February, Colorado Democrats introduced a package of bills intended to stem gun violence, including proposals to raise the age to purchase all guns to 21, impose a three-day waiting period on firearms purchases and expand the state’s existing red flag law.
Colorado Sun team editor Lance Benzel contributed to this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday, March 22, 2022, to clarify that the wounded men were both school administrators, working as deans. At 2:20 p.m., the story was updated to correct the first name of Lizzy Graves, a 10th grade student at East High School.
© Copyright © 2023 The Colorado Sun